By Patrick B. McGuigan
As Joe Friday’s character used to say in the classic Dragnet television series: “There are a million stories in the city.”
It is not possible or practical even to sketch them all, but here is our 2013 listing of the Top Ten stories from the heart of Oklahoma City.
The emerging contest between Ward 2 Council Member Ed Shadid and incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett is the top story of the year. Cornett is a conservative with close ties to the city’s corporate and legal elite. Shadid is a progressive who casts a critical eye on some government programs benefitting corporate interests. Shadid promises a more inclusive approach to mayoral appointments, Cornett wants four more years to implement the most recent MAPS projects. This will be a battle of the titans.
In second place, the Oklahoma City economy is the envy of the nation, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, a successful National Basketball Association franchise in the beloved Thunder, new corporate headquarters for energy behemoth Continental Resources, the steady presence of Devon and its emblematic tower, and a reorganized Chesapeake Energy seeking its way in a new era. That economy is not fully represented by the stories of the Energy, financial and other large interests. Small businesses like those in the group of businesses networked through MidTown entrepreneur Jack Werner fill out the story of a city on the move.
For good or ill, a new era of health care delivery is upon America, and our city. Regardless of the coming year’s staged implementation of the Affordable Care Act – one of the national leaders supporting the law is Air Force veteran Katherine Scheirman – transformational change is upon us. Groups like Manos Juntas, at the small clinic level, and Variety Health Care, a citywide network of primary care facilities, aim to bring better care to the working poor and middle class. Time will tell if that can offset the end of Insure Oklahoma benefits for thousands of Sooners just above the poverty level.
In the traditional insurance mainstream, Blue Cross/Blue Shield is implementing a “Be Covered” program. On the free-market end of the spectrum, Dr. Keith Smith and the Surgery Center of Oklahoma have gained national acclaim and favorable attention for a kind of “cash-and-carry” approach that shows both Big Government and Big Insurance.
The heroic response to the Moore/south Oklahoma City tornadoes last spring is our community’s fourth top story of the year. Governments at all levels responded quickly, demonstrated by first responders and the leadership of Gov. Mary Fallin and state Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, among many others, in meeting needs quickly. President Barack Obama visited the area to offer both words of comfort and a pledge of federal resources.
Most impressive of all was the way that diverse Oklahomans demonstrated anew the much-vaunted “Oklahoma Standard.” The Southern Baptist Disaster Relief teams were quick, efficient and compassionate in response, as were both national and state relief efforts from Catholics, Methodists, Jews, the Red Cross and many others. Relatively new to the city area, the Chabad Community Center organized an astonishing relief effort that included meats from Iowa – including Kosher foods welcomed by local Muslims impacted by the disaster.
Kevin Durant and other team members of the Thunder joined major corporations made remarkable pledges of $1 million, cementing the affection of locals.
The challenges facing local public schools continue to distress both families and the city leadership. Interim city Superintendent Dave Lopez expressed disappointment in the poor grades for many city public schools, but pledged new efforts to reach the new and more rigorous state academic benchmarks that have supplanted previous measurements. This is our fifth top story for 2013.
Great art and culture is a crucial aspect of a life in a great city – and great art is our sixth place designee. From the months-long exhibition of religious art at the downtown City Art Museum (“Heaven and Earth”) to the stellar regular performances of CityRep (our world-class actors equity group), Shakespeare in the Park and Poteet Theatre at St. Luke’s Methodist, the professional and amateur performing arts are thriving.
The Paseo Neighborhood is home to a thriving cluster of art galleries, and downtown’s Film Row is becoming an anchor for area revival. The deadCENTER draws some of the world’s finest independent films to a well-respected festival every June. Classical performances of the highest quality range from the Oklahoma City Philharmonic to the intimate performances of Brightmusic. The Oklahoma City Jazz Orchestra, another organization that responded to help Moore after the tornado, affords a tremendous venue for the uniquely American form of music.
The Renaissance of Oklahoma City University, under leadership of Robert and Jan Henry, is accelerating. In the midst of a major fundraising push for the Methodist-affiliated institution, plans are underway to move the College of Law to a “new” downtown home – the venerable building the once houses Central High. OCU, our seventh top story for 2013, continues to lead the way in educational preparation for aspiring dancers, singers and performers, and plays a vital role in business growth at the Meinders School.
Our eight top story: Oklahoma City’s gay community has flourished in recent years as the OKC Pride parade draws thousands to the near-northwest Penn and 39th corridor. Thousand gathered at the new Cimarron Alliance headquarters to celebrate a court victory last spring, the Woven group is meeting special needs, while Other Options under the leadership of Mary Arbuckle continues to meet the practical needs of AIDS sufferers.
Here in the heart of Oklahoma City, groups like the Peace House and VOICE (which honored beloved progressive leader Bob Lemon this fall) provide institutional permanence to the policy advocacy of legislators like Kay Floyd and Al McAffrey. This sustained (and growing) liberal role in leavening policy development in Oklahoma City is our ninth top story.
The conservative electoral majority in the city finds representation in men like state Rep. David Dank, a long-time activist, and younger legislators like Sen. David Holt and Rep. Jason Nelson. State Rep. Paul Wesselhoft has established not only an important role in the legislature, but is finding common group on some issues with peace activist Nathaniel Batchelder and the liberty-sensitivities of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Just outside the top ten – gaining honorable mention — would be due recognition for local leaders recently honored by induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame – Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange, publisher and media heavyweight Russell Perry and Timothy C. Headington. Former state Rep. Kevin Cox was inducted into the Bishop McGuinness Sports Hall of Fame along with physician Tom Wolf and others.
A diverse group of respected city figures, including publisher J. Leland Gourley, broadcaster Bill Thrash, and former Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau passed from the scene.
Also gaining honorable mention as a top story, and a promise of a better future, is the establishment of ReMerge, modeled on Tulsa’s Women in Recovery, offering alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent female offenders. The first graduating class at ReMerge is further proof that evidence-based policies combining supervision with treatment and life skills training can transform prospects for such women.
Once upon a time, monuments honoring the place of the Ten Commandments in development of western law and American traditions were uncontroversial. That is no longer the case, and case in point is a monument at the state Capitol paid for by a state representative but approved by a capitol complex committee. Some groups want to remove the monument, others wants to put their own monuments on the state property. Look for more litigation, and lots more discussion.
Wrapping up our review of the year, in what might be deemed a “dishonorable mention” category, two local legislators were convicted in a bribery scheme dating back to 2010. One, state Rep. Randy Terrill, has been order to pay a $5,000 fine and sentenced to one year in prison. He is appealing.
We welcome letters to the editors offering an alternative list, or pointing out important developments and trends missed here.